[News] When Portland banned blacks: Oregon’s shameful history as an ‘all-white’ state

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 9 11:38:48 EDT 2017


  When Portland banned blacks: Oregon’s shameful history as an
  ‘all-white’ state

By DeNeen L. Brown 
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/deneen-l-brown/> June 7

In 1844, all black people were ordered to get out of Oregon Country, the 
expansive territory under American rule that stretched from the Pacific 
coast to the Rocky Mountains.

Those who refused to leave could be severely whipped, the provisional 
government law declared, by “not less than twenty or more than 
thirty-nine stripes” to be repeated every six months until they left.

Oregon Country’s provisional government, which was led by Peter Burnett, 
a former slaver holder who came west from Missouri by wagon train, 
passed the law in 1844 — 15 years before Oregon became a state. The law 
allowed slave holders to keep their slaves for a maximum of three years. 
After the grace period, all black people — those considered freed or 
enslaved — were required to leave Oregon Country. Black women were given 
three years to get out; black men were required to leave in two.

The law became known as the “Peter Burnett Lash Law.” Burnett, who also 
opposed Chinese migration to Oregon Country, would later become the 
first American governor of California.

The “Lash Law” was quickly amended and then repealed. No black people 
were ever lashed under the law.

But the act would become the first of three “exclusion laws” that shaped 
the Pacific Northwest, banning any additional black people from coming 
to Oregon Country. Those laws created what one African American 
professor calls “a very hostile environment” that has long made Oregon 
and its largest city,Portland, 
a stronghold for white supremacists like Jeremy Joseph Christian 
the man accused of  killing two men and severely wounding another on a 
light-rail train last month.

Few people are aware of Oregon’s history of blatant racism 
including its refusal to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments of the 

/[Hunting down runaway slaves: The cruel ads of Andrew Jackson and ‘the 
master class’ 

In 1848, the territorial government passed a law making it illegal for 
any “Negro or Mullatto” to live in Oregon Country. In 1850, under the 
Oregon Donation Land Act, “whites and half breed Indians” were granted 
650 acres of land from the government. But any other person of color was 
excluded from claiming land in Oregon. In 1851, Jacob Vanderpool, the 
black owner of a saloon, restaurant and boarding home, was actually 
expelled from Oregon territory.

“The exclusion laws were primarily intended to prevent blacks from 
settling in Oregon, not to kick out those who were already here,” 
according to Salem Public Library records. But Vanderpool’s neighbor 
“reported him for the crime of being black in Oregon, and Judge Thomas 
Nelson gave him thirty days to leave the territory.”

In 1857, as Oregon sought to become a state, it wrote the exclusion of 
blacks into its constitution: “No free negro or mulatto, not residing in 
this State at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall ever 
come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make 
any contract, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly 
shall provide by penal laws for the removal by public officers of all 
such free negroes and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from 
the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into 
the State, or employ or harbor them therein.”

When Oregon entered the Union in 1859 — it did so as a “whites-only” 
state. The original state constitution banned slavery, but also excluded 
nonwhites from living there.

“Oregon is the only state in the United States that actually began as 
literally whites-only,” said Winston Grady-Willis, director of Portland 
State University’s School of Gender, Race and Nations. “Even though 
there was subsequent legislation that challenged those statutes, the 
statutes were not removed from the books until 1922.”

Grady-Willis added: “It’s really important for folks to understand this 
notion of Oregon as this lily-white state sets the tone and is important 
structurally for the remainder of history of not only the state, but 
cities like Portland as well.”

/[‘Life or death for black travelers’: How fear led to ‘The Negro 
Motorist Green-Book’ 

Portland’s reputation as a progressive city is largely a myth, he said. 
Portland remains the whitest, large city in United States. According to 
a July 2015 Census report, the city of 612,206  people, was 77.6 percent 
white; and 5.8 percent black. Grady-Willis called it “a key  site for 
Klan activity.”

This is the historical backdrop for the charges against Christian, 35, 
who allegedly verbally abused two women on the train,  including one 
wearing a hijab, and then attacked the men who came to their aid.

During a brief court hearing 
Tuesday, Christian was unapologetic:

“You call it terrorism,” Christian said in court. “I call it patriotism.”

The man accused of murdering two men who tried to stop him from shouting 
religious slurs on a Portland train, appeared in court on May 30. Jeremy 
Christian shouted "free speech or die, Portland" during his arraignment. 
The man accused of murdering two men who tried to stop him from shouting 
religious slurs on a Portland train, appeared in court on May 30. (Reuters)

The man accused of murdering two men who tried to stop him from shouting 
religious slurs on a Portland train, appeared in court on May 30. Jeremy 
Christian shouted "free speech or die, Portland" during his arraignment. 

Oregon has a defiant history of resisting federal laws that gave black 
people rights.

Karen Gibson,  associate professor in Portland State’s Toulan School of 
Urban Studies and Planning, said Oregon rescinded its initial 
ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which 
granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United 
States,” including former slaves.

Oregon was one of just six states that refused to ratify the 15th 
Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote.

Oregon did not ratify the 15th amendment until 1959 — one hundred years 
after the state joined the Union. It was a symbolic adoption as part of 
its centennial celebration. It did not re-ratify the 14th amendment 
until 1973.

“Many of the white settlers who came here came for the Oregon Land 
Donation Act. This place was intentionally settled by whites for 
whites,” Gibson said.

“They did not want slavery here. They didn’t want land taken over by 
large plantations so they didn’t have to compete with bonded labor. But 
they also thought blacks were inferior. That is still here. White 
supremacy is about that: the beliefs that whites were supreme.”

Darrell Millner, professor emeritus in Portland State’s Black Studies 
Department, said many early Oregon settlers were opposed to slavery “not 
because of what it did to blacks but because of what it did to them. 
Slavery represented a competition they did not wish to work against.”

Millner said Oregon became a place where “many practices we associate 
with the Jim Crow South were legal here.” In the 1920s, Oregon had the 
largest Ku Klux Klan organization west of the Mississippi River. In 
1922, Walter Pierce, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was elected governor 
of Oregon. Pierce served as a member of the U.S. House of 
Representatives from 1932 to 1942.

Oregon’s hostility toward blacks remains part of the state’s culture.

“In the 1980s and ’90s, Oregon became a destination for the largest 
skinhead movement in the country,” Millner said. “Their objective was to 
achieve something pioneers tried to achieve here and that was to create 
a white homeland.”

Millner said that in the 1980s and 1990s, “in Oregon and especially in 
Portland, it was very dangerous to be a person of color.

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Daily headlines about the Washington region.

An infamous racial attack occurred in Portland in 1988, when an 
Ethiopian immigrant was fatally beaten by three white supremacists 
skinheads on the streets of Portland. Mulugeta Seraw was a student at 
Portland State University. He was killed by three white supremacists 
who were members of the White Aryan Resistance who beat him with a 
baseball bat.

In 1990, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League 
won a lawsuit against the White Aryan Resistance on behalf of Seraw’s 

Millner said he has lived in Oregon 47 years. When he heard about the 
stabbings on the train last month he said he was disturbed but not 

“It reinforced the subterranean awareness all people of color in Oregon 
have that something like that could happen to them at any time and in 
place,” he said. “That is reflective of what people of color in Oregon 
live with. It is on a subconscious level daily. You are constantly aware 
that is a possibility.”


  Oregon Black History Timeline - Audio Commentary


This is a 50 slide timeline and audio commentary created by Walidah 
Imarisha for a program called "Why Aren't There More Black People in 
Oregon?: A Hidden History," which looks at the history of race, identity 
and power in Oregon and the larger nation. Oregon has a history not only 
of Black exclusion and discrimination, but also of a vibrant Black 
culture that helped sustain many communities throughout the state—a 
history that is not taught in schools. Oregon as a state was explicitly 
founded on the idea of creating a white nationalist utopia, and in that 
way is a useful case study to see the mentality that nationally shaped 
the institutions that govern our lives.

There is also a version of the timeline available with no audio 
commentary here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3NuDn... 

You can find out about interactive public programs using this timeline 
by going to http://www.walidah.com/event.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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